…when it comes down to it, that’s what life is all about: showing up for the people you love, again and again, until you can’t show up anymore…Rebecca Walker
In light of Father’s Day tomorrow, this post is dedicated to my dad. Thank you for always showing up!
The thing I want you to know about my dad is that he shows up for the people he cares about. Whether I’m moving across town, having problems in a relationship, changing careers, or facing a chronic, nearly fatal illness, I know my dad will be there to talk it through, share the weight and fiercely advocate on my behalf. I’ve never doubted his love for me. I’ve lived my life with the privilege of unwavering confidence that my dad will always be there for me.
Growing up, when I came to him with problems, he was always willing to share the burden of resolution for whatever teenage angst was plaguing me at the time. During those conversations, whenever he’d offer advice it always came with a “we should” or “we can” – little words that carried significant meaning, inadvertently reassuring me that whatever the problem was, I wouldn’t have to face it alone.
The weight of my problems has undoubtedly increased as I’ve grown older. I’m sure it was much simpler to offer a united front when dealing with a bad grade or hurt feelings than it must have been to watch his first-born fight for her life – and look to him for the answers not even the doctors possessed.
When I was hospitalized for my first autoimmune disease, I spent a month in hospital. Although I had many visitors, who all meant the world to me and who each contributed in their own way, my dad was the only one to come every single day, an hour-long commute each way from where he lived to the hospital where I was confined. I was twenty-five years old and this was definitely the worst thing that had happened to me so far, but each day he forced me to get out of bed and walk with him up and down the corridor on my floor. He made me laugh – always reminding me not to take myself too seriously. And some days he was permitted to take me on father-daughter “dates” to the cafeteria (dressed in my “prettiest” hospital gown – face mask and all) where we people-watched and ate the foods my nurses wouldn’t allow.
When the doctors arrived upon a diagnosis of my rare condition, my dad was there, notebook in hand (ever the reporter) to document dates, treatments and medical terms we didn’t even know how to pronounce. He diligently transcribed every scary and seemingly foreign word – the ones that stuck in my throat when I tried to speak but echoed in my mind for days to come…chronic renal failure, anti-glomerular basement membrane disease, plasmapheresis, dialysis, titers, renal biopsy… My mind shut down but dad was there without question to make sure that if we were heading into battle with my own body, we were at least going to be armed with information.
Six years later, when I called him late one Monday night, frightened by my own thoughts and confused by my own behavior as my second autoimmune disease began to set my brain afire, he was there yet again, as I’d always known he would be. It would take more than one blog post to give justice to all the things my dad did for me over the course of the next year as I battled autoimmune encephalitis. But I would be remiss if I didn’t at least try.
From the beginning dad was on hand again, notebook in hand, documenting treatments, researching my symptoms and trying to make sure the rest of my life didn’t fall apart while I was incapacitated. He became my power of attorney and spent hours on the phone with insurance companies, my employer, government agencies and hospital services. When he came to visit, he brought coffee or photos or games – anything that might possibly reign in the chaos in my mind. Again, he got me out of my room daily and reminded me to stay positive. When the disease made my muscles spasm uncontrollably, dad held me steady and massaged the Charlie-horses that came after; when the doctors needed to run a test, he provided me with distractions so they could do their job; when I started pulling tubes out of my arms, chest and neck, he made sure there was always someone in the room to keep me safe.
My disease was so encompassing, my treatment so aggressive, my recovery so gradual, that in many ways I was an adult in an adolescent’s mind, relearning who I was and how the world works. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for him to look at his grown daughter and wonder if she’d ever be able to care for herself again.
When the doctors had done all they could, and it was time to help myself, I was moved into a room at my dad and stepmom’s house where I required nearly 24-hour care for the first several weeks. Dad became my nurse, physical therapist, dietitian, financial manager, appointment keeper and counselor. He made sure each day I exercised my mind as well as my body. He drove me to appointments several times a week and when the time came, taught me how to drive again. He urged me to take up hobbies and interests I’d enjoyed before getting sick and encouraged me to become an active participant in my own life once again. We had good days and bad days, but I surely wouldn’t be here today without him!
Despite the challenges we’ve faced, my dad still shows up. I still go to my dad, even when I just need to know someone is on my side, and he still makes me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to. My dad was crucial to my recovery and at the end of the day I know, it was not just one big gesture that saved my life, it is a thousand little things that he did to give me the best life possible. My dad shows up and that has made all the difference.